Women’s soccer players file lawsuit against Butler after alleged sexual assault by team trainer

Two current players and one former player accused ex-trainer Michael Howell of sexually assaulting and harassing them repeatedly at Butler in a new lawsuit.

Two current players and one former player accused ex-trainer Michael Howell of sexually assaulting and harassing them repeatedly at Butler in a new lawsuit. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Content Warning: This story contains allegations and depictions of alleged sexual assault.

A pair of current and one former Butler women’s soccer players filed a lawsuit against the university alleging that they were sexually assaulted by a former athletic trainer, .

Two of the players in the lawsuit are still on the team at Butler, and the third is a former player. The women, who were not identified in the lawsuit that was filed in Indianapolis on Wednesday, are suing for negligence, battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The three women accuse trainer Michael Howell of sexually assaulting them during training sessions. Howell, the lawsuit said, has a close relationship with one of the team’s coaches and “wielded power” over players’ treatment and playing time. He allegedly “routinely exposed player’s intimate body parts during massages,” something that apparently happened so frequently that the players called it, “the breeze.”

Howell, the lawsuits said, assaulted numerous women on the team and engaged in sexual misconduct, including “rubbing his erect penis against female athletes” and “groping “their outer vaginal areas, breasts and nipples,” . This allegedly happened over years in the team’s training room, offices, buses and hotel rooms while on road trips.

One of the women, who is still on the team, said that Howell once massaged her breasts,” twisted her neck so hard it made it difficult for [her] to swallow” and “rubbed his erect penis against her hand” during a three-hour massage that she was subjected to. She said that Howell rubbed her groin and outer vaginal area so forcefully “that she had pain urinating,” per the report.

The player said that she and five other women reported Howell for misconduct, and that she noticed on his phone that he had taken photos and video of treatments. One video, she alleged, showed Howell inappropriately treating an athlete. That video was allegedly circulated among the team and “eventually seen by Butler’s athletic staff.” She said that one time she caught Howell taking photos of her from behind while she was lifting, too.

Howell was first reported on Sept. 28, 2021. He was placed on leave eight days later, and he allegedly “made multiple attempts to interact with players in a manner that frightened them.” One player said Howell said he knew “everything about her,” including where she lived, her social security number and even referenced the specific pillow she had on her bed in her dorm room.

During that eight day span, the lawsuits said, Howell was alerted to a Title IX investigation before the school could contact law enforcement or take his work phone. That allowed “Howell to destroy and/or transfer likely lurid photographs and videos taken of the athletes.” A Title IX investigation determined that Howell had “sexually assaulted and harassed” one of the women who filed a lawsuit against the school and “other young women on the soccer team.”

Howell first joined Butler in 2012, and also worked with the men’s basketball, men’s and women’s golf teams, men’s tennis and cheerleading teams before being fired in 2021.

Senior associate athletic director Ralph Reiff was also listed in the lawsuit.

“By these lawsuits, these brave athletes seek to obtain full justice for the harms they suffered, notify other athletes who may have been sexually assaulted while playing varsity sports for the University that they are not alone and ensure that the predator once employed by Butler — who assaulted vulnerable female student-athletes multiple times, in multiple locations on and off campus — cannot hurt another athlete,” their attorney, Monica Beck, .

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